Turkey Tips

As Thanksgiving day is a mere two weeks away, it’s probably a good idea to go over some basic tips and hints revolving around the big bird. It’s a fair guess to say that Heritage Turkeys are now becoming less and less available for pre-order, but that doesn’t mean that you will have to suffer a bad bird, at least taste-wise.


  • The younger the turkey, the more tender and mild flavored it will be. Turkeys labeled “young turkey” are usually 4 to 6 months of age. There are also young turkeys labeled “fryer-roaster turkey” which are usually under 16 weeks of age.
  • The sex designation of “hen” or “tom” is optional on the label, and means little when it comes to the tenderness of the meat. Toms will have more breast meat than hens and will generally be larger birds.
  • The larger birds give more meat per pound.
  • Buy two small turkeys in place of one large one means more drumsticks, wings, thighs and giblets, and takes less time to cook
  • Turkey Label Terms –
    Basted/Self Basting: injected with a liquid that can add up to 12% of the Turkeys net weight.
    Fresh: chilled to 40° F, but not below 26° F.
    Frozen: Flash frozen to below 32°, then stored 0° F or lower.
    Natural: Minimally processed and contains nothing artificial or preservative.
    Refrigerated: Stored between 1° F and 26° F.
  • A USDA grade mark of “A” typically means that the Turkeys are meaty, have a well developed layer of fat in the skin, and are practically free from pinfeathers, bruises, cuts, tears on the breast and legs, and broken bones.


  • Store raw turkeys for 2 days in the refrigerator in its original wrapping. If you’re not going to use the turkey within 2 days, store it in the freezer, giving it an additional wrapping of Saran Wrap. There it will keep for up to a year.


  • It’s best to thaw the turkey in an environment that does not allow bacteria to grow. The Safe zone? 40° F or under.
  • Thawing in the refrigerator is the safest means of getting the turkey ready. But it does take a while. Allow 25 hours for every 5 lbs of turkey. So a 15 lb bird will take you 3 days to thaw in the refrigerator.
  • Some say the most efficient way to thaw in the Refrigerator is to place the turkey breast-side up in its unopened wrapper on a tray in the refrigerator. YMMV.
  • A cooler can be used if shelf space is an issue. Use Freezer packs to keep chilled. You will need to rotate as the freezer packs warm up over time. A refrigerator thermometer is probably not a bad idea in the cooler either. Remember: 40° is the danger line. Replaces the packs when the temperature hits about 38 degrees F.
  • If you forget to thaw your bird, you can thaw it in cold water. Place the turkey in a sealed, leakproof packaging (i.e. additional Saran Wrap). Completely submerge in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes until turkey is thawed. Rule of thumb? The Turkey should be submerged in cool water for 30 minutes for every lb of the turkey. So a 12-16 lb turkey would thaw in 6-8 hours. The bird should then be cooked as soon as possible when thawed to prevent bacteria growth.


  • A Brine is a good way to ensure a moist bird, unless you have a Heritage turkey. The Heritage Turkey can easily stand on its own.
  • Do not let raw turkey juice touch ready to eat foods.
  • For God’s sake, remove the bag of giblets from the neck area of the bird. This is a mistake you’ll make only once in your life (and yes, I’ve done that).
  • Here are some prepping ideas. I’ve not tried them all, but some people swear by them:
    Bacon: Attach Bacon strips to the bird with Toothpicks.
    Butter: Pat the turkey dry, then brush completely with melted butter. Coat with salt and pepper.
    Cheesecloth: Soak Cheesecloth in olive or canola oil. Then wrap the turkey with said cheesecloth. Remove the cloth 30 minutes before the end of its roasting time.
  • A turkey will cook faster in a darker pan.
  • The Larger the roasting pan, the better the heat circulation surrounding the bird.


  • Stuffing adds to cooking time.
  • Stuffing adds another variable to the risk of the bacteria land mines.
  • Stuffing is your choice. It makes roasting the turkey more difficult, but not impossible.
  • Buuutt…you can add a quartered onion to the huge turkey cavity to give your bird that extra somethin’. Alton Brown also adds a cinnamon stick and a bit of apple.. If you do this, toss out these items when the turkey is done roasting.


  • A V-rack is a good idea, as it prevents the bird from rolling and allows more heat to circulate.
  • Basting? Not worth the effort. It toughens the skin and won’t be as crispy. I won’t even mention the fact that every time you’d open the door to baste, you would lower the temperature of your oven, increasing your cooking time.
  • That little plastic “turkey popper”? Ignore it. But don’t remove it.
  • Thermometers are your friends. Have a good one on hand.
  • Perfect temperatures for turkey Meat? Dark meat is 180° F. White is roughly 161° F.
  • For an unstuffed and thawed turkey? Roast at 325° F for 2¾ to 3 hours for an 8-12 lb bird. 3 to 3¾ hours for a 12-14 pounder. 3¾ to 4¼ hours for a 14-18 pound bird. 4¼ – 4½ hours for a 18 to 20 lb turkey. And 4½ – 5 hours for a 20lb to 24 lb monster.
  • For a stuffed and thawed turkey? Roast at 325° F for 3 to 3½ hours for an 8-12 lb bird. 3½ to 4 hours for a 12-14 pounder. 4 to 4¼ hours for a 14-18 pound bird. 4¼ – 4¾ hours for a 18 to 20 lb turkey. And 4¾ – 5¼ hours for a 20lb to 24 lb monster.
  • Alton Brown Method of Roasting? The first 30 minutes at 500° F. Add a folded-over, breast-sized and oiled sheet of Aluminum Foil to the Turkey’s breast at the 30 minute mark and lower the heat to 350° F. Cook until the internal temperature of the bird reaches 161° F.
  • Never partially cook a turkey to be finished later. You’re asking for bacterial growth.
  • Check for doneness of your turkey at about 30 minutes prior to it’s completion time. Insert a your meat thermometer at the thickest part of the thigh. It should read roughly 175 ° F. The breast should read somewhere between 160° F and 165° F.
  • If you’ve used stuffing, the center of the stuffing should read 165° F.
  • After removing the turkey from the oven, cover completely (yet loosely) with foil. Allow to set between 20 -30 minutes before carving.
  • Free range turkeys will typically have a pink coloration in about 1/3 of the breast meat, particularly that meat closest to the ribs. That’s because they develop a stronger and healthier circulatory system than do caged birds, and there is a resulting greater supply of blood to the muscles – which can tint the meat like a blush.

There are more words of wisdom out there, so don’t consider this the end-all be-all of Turkey Wisdom.

Hope this helps!

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